Justice for Chee

By Leo Killsback and Cheryl Redhorse Bennett
Special to the Times

March 13, 2014

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In Chandler, Ariz., on Feb. 16 around 4 p.m., Kriston Charles Belinte Chee was shot and killed in front of his wife and numerous Wal-Mart customers.

The perpetrator is Cyle Wayne Quadlin. After the shooting, he fled the scene and did not wait for police. Later his family called the police who came by to pick him up to record his side of the story.

Meanwhile Chee was rushed to the hospital where he was pronounced dead. Quadlin a 25-year-old white male, brought a loaded weapon into Wal-Mart. He then began to argue with 36-year-old Chee and his wife, Arlinda Shirley, both whom are members of the Navajo Nation. The argument became heated and turned into a scuffle.

Quadlin claims that he was "losing" the fight and pulled out his gun and shot Chee. In an interview, Shirley expressed that her husband was there to "protect" her from "that guy." Quadlin has neither been arrested nor charged with any crime.

Today we honor the life of Kriston Chee and give our condolences to his wife, family, and children. Kriston Chee was one of the best masons in the United States and won several national awards. His coworkers and employers knew him to be a kind-hearted man who was gentle and compassionate, despite his physical stature and strength.

He was a true family man and friend, and he was also proud of his Navajo heritage and culture.

Arizona has "stand your ground" gun laws, but how far should the state go in allowing strangers to walk around with loaded weapons, especially during the daytime in public, family shopping areas like Wal-Mart?

Unfortunately the police did not even arrest the shooter/killer to process the incident. It is likely that the police heard the testimony of the shooter/killer, Quadlin, and did not believe that a crime was committed. What was the reasoning for this? Were the police acting fairly in their investigation?

Quadlin pleaded to police that the shooting was justified because he was "losing" the fight and "feared" for his life. The police should have at least made an arrest and let the courts decide. Quadlin's claim of self-defense would be legitimate if and only if Chee was in the act of committing any one of the major crimes. The police should have at least made an arrest and let the courts decide, preserving the sanctity of the justice system designed to protect us all from unwarranted confrontation and violence.

Shirley, Chee's widow, stated that her husband was there to protect her, which suggests that Quadlin was the aggressor and instigator of the argument and fight. Chee was a father of three, but reports do not indicate if his children were with their mother and father during the shooting.

When we, as American Indians, see injustice and unpunished crimes committed against American Indians by non-Indian perpetrators, when reasonable, we should always raise the concerns of racial prejudice and discrimination imbedded within the system.

However difficult to prove in the court of law, these unseen, unspoken codes of whiteness, which assume that race does not matter in situations where race, is in fact, the primary factor in the situation. In this shooting case, Chee was an American Indian who was killed by Quadlin, a white man.

What if the situation were reversed? What if a 25-year-old armed Indian man instigated an argument with a white man and his wife while in line at Wal-Mart in the daytime? Would we even be having this conversation now?

In a Wal-Mart parking lot in Farmington, N.M., unarmed Clint John (Navajo) was shot and killed by a police officer after an alleged domestic violence dispute. The police officer was exonerated after a lengthy trial. The police officer also claimed self-defense.

When whites perpetrate violence against American Indians and other people of color, the message is clear. There are no consequences. Chandler and Farmington are both considered reservation border towns. Border towns tend to be dangerous places for American Indians, rife with racial violence and rampant with discrimination.

Beyond the American Indian community, the pattern of violence against men of color is an epidemic. Chee, like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis were all unarmed. The shooters all received little to no punishment. The conversation in the conservative media is coopted to instead focus on the debates around gun-control and gun rights rather than the pattern of continuous violence against men of color.

When the mainstream media reported on this story, they utilized a high definition mug shot from Chee's DUI arrest on New Year's Eve in 2004. This is a deliberate effort to devalue and discredit the victim. Some media outlets also control the image of shooter/killer Cyle Quadlin, whose pictures cannot be found with ease and whose picture is rarely, if at all, shown on television. These are the codes of whiteness at play.

"Fear" and "losing" should become synonymous with Quadlin's name: he is a coward and a killer. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we will realize the injustice and crime of our own apathy.

Killsback is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and currently an assistant professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. Bennett is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and currently a visiting professor of Native American and indigenous studies at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo.

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